As soon as I meet someone new and the introductions are out of the way and we get to the requisite “What do you do?” part of the conversation, a question arises that I both dread and anticipate in equal parts, depending on how knowledgeable the person claims to be:
“Oh, you write about music — what’s your favorite band?”
It’s almost like a trick question, because often, the person asking isn’t as interested in hearing my answer as giving one of his own and immediately astounding me with his tuneful awareness, or using my answer as a basis for comparison to her own seemingly superior (and usually rather rigid) musical taste, then listing all the reasons I’m wrong. It turns into a debate; we’re arguing in circles and neither side is really listening to what the other has to say.
It’s this willful ignorance that usually dictates my response to the question: a vague “too many to name,” because why go through all that? But if the person continues to pry, I’ll be honest and without batting an eye, respond, “Phish. What else is there?”
I’m not ashamed of my love of Phish. I’m just reluctant to have to justify the music that has informed the decisions I’ve made and the path I’ve taken for the past decade, which ultimately led me to the person I am today.
But, for the folks who are genuinely curious as to why I’ve seen this band 65 times, and will continue to see them until they stop touring, it’s a Tao sort of thing, and I’m gonna break it down, as simply as possible.
It’s about the music, the key component that brings us Phishheads together: the way Jon, Page, Trey and Mike make the sounds of double their number, rock ‘n’ roll that wheels and spins through genres with deft and seamless ease.
It’s the unexpected quality to the shows — not knowing exactly what they’ll play (setlists change nightly and their repertoire includes upwards of 300 songs), where a song might go (because it’s never in the same place twice), how they’ll get there, how far they’ll stretch it out, and what will come next (poignant melody-drenched pop ballad? dissonant sci-fi psychedelic ooze? gritty and fiery funk groove?) – that builds the anticipation ever higher. It’s that moment when the four musicians are no longer separate and distinct entities but one pulsing, throbbing, chugging machine, when the music sounds like it just might fall apart or gets so out-there it inspires entirely new dance moves.
It’s the way you can pretty much dance to whatever’s coming from the stage, and the dancing is a whole ’nother animal unto itself, the music so immersive that you can’t help but get down. And everyone moves at a Phish show, whether it’s just a head-bob and sway, or full-out rug-cutting musical possession.
It’s the incredible lights hosing down the stage in saturated hues or spinning like glittering disco balls or flashing white explosions of eye-popping dazzle, always completely synched with the band’s music.
It’s all the places I’ve been over 11 years of following Phish — from Las Vegas and Indio, California (site of Coachella), to Denver, upstate New York, and the upper reaches of the U.S. itself in Bangor, Maine — and the people I’ve met there.
It’s the community I’m part of, and the extended Phamily that’s become so near and dear to my heart. Some of the most amazing people I know were brought into my life via Phish, some of these fleeting relationships, others enduring friendships that’ll last forever. My Phamily members will hold a spot at a general admission show for hours, for more than a dozen people, sometimes a few dozen, just so we can all enjoy the show together. They give out Phamily T-shirts and temporary tattoos and pens that light up in the dark (for those of us who take setlist notes at shows). They plan outings, gatherings, brunches and dinners. They band together to make it happen for me when times get tough and I can’t make it happen for myself, and I would do (and have done) the same in a hot minute. They are like a real family, and they’re scattered all over the country, extending up into Canada and overseas to Germany.
It’s the earnestness the band puts into playing the music while infusing it with humor, light, warmth and love, and the earnestness their fans put into listening to it and appreciating it, and the exchange of energy that happens as a result of these things that’s so strong it’s almost tangible.
It’s standing amid a crowd of people who all feel the same way you do, experiencing that energy and knowing you are part of some greater whole. It’s that spirit of “we’re in this together,” multiplied several thousandfold.
For me, Phish is soul food — a feast of love and vibrations — and every show reminds me why I keep doing what I’m doing and motivates me to take on whatever’s coming next. So, until the next show …
*This post was inspired by the Randall's Island run. Yes, I was there. Yes, it was as amazing as it sounded.*